Malnutrition during pregnancy is a major global health issue that leads to restricted growth of developing fetuses making them more prone to death and disease. In fact, babies born from poorly nourished mothers are more likely to develop obesity, metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease as adults.
Researchers from the University of Colorado and University of Texas Health Sciences Center teamed up to examine whether the placenta can sense the nutrient state of the mother and therefore control nutrient delivery to the fetus. They studied this in baboons as these non-human primates closely model characteristics of human pregnancy and placental development. They were mainly interested in transport of amino acids (building blocks of proteins necessary for growth) by the placenta. The findings of this study were recently published in the American Journal of Physiology - Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology and show that placentas from pregnant mothers who were nutrient restricted weighed 20% less. Moreover, the transport of essential amino acids across the placenta was also reduced in pregnant baboons who experienced nutrient restriction. This reduced transport of essential amino acids was associated with reduced amino acid concentration in the developing fetuses, which is thought to be why babies born to nutrient restricted mothers experience reduced growth in the womb.
The findings from this research suggest that perhaps supplementing malnourished pregnant baboons or humans with amino acids may help increase fetal growth, although more research is needed to verify this.
Pantham P, Rosario FJ, Nijland M, Cheung A, Nathanielsz P, Powell TL, Galan HL, Li C, Jansson T. Reduced placental amiacid transport in response to maternal nutrient restriction in the baboon. The American Journal of Physiology - Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology. In press, August 5, 2015. doi:10.1152/ajpregu.00161.2015
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